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MRC patrons frequently ask us why we don't own particular titles on on vhs tape. The answer to that question isn't as straightforward as you might think.
The most common reason for not owning a movie or documentary title on DVD is the fact that, well, it's not out on DVD yet. In this age of ubiquitous film and video, it seems as if EVERY piece of film ever shot should be available for purchase on DVD (if not for consumption online). Unfortunately, that's simply not the case. International DVD distribution is a fickle and strange business. Mainstream Hollywood titles one would swear should be available on DVD often aren't--even when they have formerly been available on tape. Titles once in DVD distribution may be taken out of distribution for various economic reasons. These problems tend to be even greater for foreign films than domestic. In some cases, it may simply be a matter of waiting patiently for the DVD release. In other cases, one may have to wait forever... The most maddening of all cases, are those in which a film WAS released on DVD for a short time, but is no longer in distribution in any format. It happens more than you'd think.
The lag in DVD availability is intensified ten-fold for non-theatrical films, such as documentaries and educational titles, and primary source media. For some of the "larger" (larger being a very relative term) catalogs of independently produced and distributed documentary films, DVD has made satisfying in-roads. For other titles of this sort, DVDs may never be available. Here's a maddening example: Jon Else's terrific 1997 documentary Cadillac Desert, about the role of water in shaping the American West, was originally released by PBS Home Video on vhs. It was never distributed on DVD, and now even the tape is no longer available (a victim of the same kinds of footage licensing costs that temporarily brought down the groundbreaking series Eyes on the Prize).
In cases where a commercially acquired documentary in the MRC collection is no longer in distribution in any format and is physically at risk of disintegration, MRC has been selectively making DVD preservation copies for use within the Center. Such copying is allowed by Section 108 of the US copyright law. You can identify these titles in the MRC web site or in Pathfinder by the designation "Preservation Copy" next to the call number.
The second reason for not owning a title on DVD IS more straightforward: MONEY! The MRC budget must accommodate the purchase of new titles, the licensing of currently owned titles for online streaming, AND the purchase of DVD copies of titles currently owned on tape only. In short, Although we are systematically attempting to acquire or reformat everything we own on DVD, it will take time.